When I knit, my mother is close.
The older I get, the more I’m drawn homeward. When the weather turns cold, my craving for soup on the stove, a fire in the hearth, and time to knit begs to be slaked. Chilly temps find me cruising arts and crafts stores, feasting on colors and textures of yarn, and imagining new projects. Winter sends me digging for my stash.
On hands and knees with the bedspread flipped up, driven by this seasonal hunger, I drag out baskets and totes of knitting supplies, including 50 years of my mother’s accumulation I inherited after she died. Unlike my messy stockpile, hers is meticulously organized: stitch holders, markers, gauge rulers, and dozens of pairs of needles — aluminum, plastic, wooden, double point, circular — all organized by size and labeled. Dog-eared pattern books date back to the 1950s. Her handwriting marks their pages. Expensive skeins of alpaca wool, unused, leave me to wonder at her plans.
I was eight when she taught me to knit, painstaking and earnest. My stitches were tight, my fingertips sore from pushing and prying, the work tenaciously hugging the needles. Though rife with mistakes, the baby booties provided my first taste of accomplishment. Booty, that is; I never finished the pair. My mother lost the pregnancy when her fourth child, a boy, was stillborn. We didn’t talk about it much, and it wasn’t until I was a mother of four myself that I realized the magnitude of her loss. I wish I’d asked her about it when I had the chance.
The last thing she made me was a pair of fingerless angora gloves featuring intricate latticework. With skills far surpassing my own, she remained ever my teacher, sharing new techniques like a sweater pattern with knit-in pockets, a gorgeous moss-stitched cardigan she made for her mother (a knitter, as well), who was newly widowed and alone. When my Grammy died, the sweater passed to me. I gave it to my daughter who wrapped herself up during breast cancer in three generations of maternal safeguarding.
With my derriere in the air, I reach past balls of leftover yarn to find what I’ve been searching for: a not-quite-finished, nearly-forgotten afghan I started decades ago. Comprised of individual squares with unique patterns of cable twists, tweeds, and herringbone, it is, in effect, a knitted patchwork quilt.
Threading the yarn through my fingers, I deftly cast on, sliding the right needle behind, wrapping the yarn, and pulling the stitch through. Reading the pattern, I begin to knit. K4, YO, SSK, (K1, K2 tog, YO, SSK) six times, K3. As natural as breathing, the rhythm is soothing. My hands know the way like my mother’s: lightly spotted with age, blue veins under thin skin, taut tendons like a puppeteer’s strings making the fingers dance. When I knit, my mother is close. More than that, when I knit, I become my mother. I’m comforted by her presence.
I lay out the completed blocks. Placing right sides together (unconsciously holding the darning needle in my teeth as she did), I whip-stitch piece after piece together until a flowing blanket is formed, a mosaic of complexity. Like a lifetime, the whole is comprised of many parts: seasons of joy and pain, of blessings and loss, merged into a single work of art.
I stand back and take it in, gratified by having fashioned something so lovely. Aware, too, that the doing of it fulfills me as much as the finished product itself. Yet, I’m most rewarded in the giving. Creating a beautiful object that brings joy to others is immensely satisfying. An intimate expression of love, the creation carries the giver’s very essence. This afghan will keep my family warm now and long after I’m gone. My mother knew this. And she taught me well.